Tag Archives: Japan

We’re Talking About Money, Honey

Felix Salmon:

Individuals are doing it, banks are doing it — faced with the horrific news and pictures from Japan, everybody wants to do something, and the obvious thing to do is to donate money to some relief fund or other.

Please don’t.

We went through this after the Haiti earthquake, and all of the arguments which applied there apply to Japan as well. Earmarking funds is a really good way of hobbling relief organizations and ensuring that they have to leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places. And as Matthew Bishop and Michael Green said last year, we are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict. That often results in a mess of uncoordinated NGOs parachuting in to emergency areas with lots of good intentions, where a strategic official sector response would be much more effective. Meanwhile, the smaller and less visible emergencies where NGOs can do the most good are left unfunded.

In the specific case of Japan, there’s all the more reason not to donate money. Japan is a wealthy country which is responding to the disaster, among other things, by printing hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of new money. Money is not the bottleneck here: if money is needed, Japan can raise it. On top of that, it’s still extremely unclear how or where organizations like globalgiving intend on spending the money that they’re currently raising for Japan — so far we’re just told that the money “will help survivors and victims get necessary services,” which is basically code for “we have no idea what we’re going to do with the money, but we’ll probably think of something.”

Tyler Cowen:

For reasons which you can find outlined in my Discover Your Inner Economist, I am generally in sympathy with arguments like Felix’s, but not in this case.  I see a three special factors operating here:

1. The chance that your aid will be usefully deployed, and not lost to corruption, is much higher than average.

2. I believe this crisis will bring fundamental regime change to Japan (currently an underreported issue), rather than just altering the outcome of the next election.  America needs to signal its partnership with one of its most important allies.  You can help us do that.

3. Maybe you should give to a poorer country instead, but you probably won’t.  Odds are this will be an extra donation at the relevant margin.  Sorry to say, this disaster has no “close substitute.”

It may be out of date, but the starting point for any study of Japan is still Karel von Wolferen’s The Enigma of Japanese Power.   Definitely recommended.

Adam Ozimek at Modeled Behavior

John Carney at CNBC:

The fact that Charlie Sheen has decided donate a portion of the money from his live stage shows to help people affected by earthquake in Japan should be all you need to know that donating money to Japan is a bad idea.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, volcanoes and even chemical or nuclear disasters can provoke a strong urge on the part of people to want to provide disaster relief in the form of charitable donations directed at those afflicted by the most recent disaster. This is almost always a mistake.

Almost all international disaster relief is ineffective. Part of the reason for this is that relief groups rarely know who is suffering most, or how aid can be most effectively directed.

Reihan Salam

Annie Lowrey at Slate:

Concern and generosity are entirely human—and entirely admirable!—responses to the disaster and tragedy in Japan. But if you really want to be helpful, as Felix Salmon and others have noted, there might be better ways to donate your money than just sending it to Japan. There are two basic rules for being useful: First, give to organizations with long track records of helping overseas. Second, leave it up to the experts to decide how to distribute the aid.

The first suggestion is simple: Avoid getting scammed by choosing an internationally known and vetted group. Big, long-standing organizations like Doctors without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross are good choices. If choosing a smaller or local group, try checking with aid groups, Guidestar, or the Better Business Bureau before submitting funds.

The second suggestion is more important. Right now, thousands of well-intentioned donors are sending money to Japan to help it rebuild. But some portion of the donated funds will be earmarked, restricted to a certain project or goal, and therefore might not do the Japanese much good in the end. Moreover, given Japan’s extraordinary wealth and development, there is a good chance that aid organizations will end up with leftover funds they will have no choice but to spend in country—though the citizens of other nations wracked by other disasters, natural or man-made, might need it more. Aid organizations can do more good when they decide how best to use the money they receive.

Taylor Marsh:

As for giving to Japan, don’t and here’s why, unless you want to give specifically to an organization like Doctors Without Borders.

Mahablog:

Felix Salmon wrote a column for Reuters warning people “don’t donate money to Japan.” His argument is that donations earmarked for a particular disaster often “leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places.”

Commenters pointed out that many relief organizations accept donations with a disclaimer that surplus funds may be applied elsewhere. And other relief organizations don’t allow for earmarking of donations at all, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a burst of cash during an extraordinary crisis.

Salmon also wrote, “we are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict. That often results in a mess of uncoordinated NGOs parachuting in to emergency areas with lots of good intentions, where a strategic official sector response would be much more effective.”

That last probably is true. I also have no doubt that various evangelical groups already are planning their crusades to Japan to rescue the simple indigenous people for Christ in their time of need. (Update: Yep.)

So if you do want to donate money, I suggest giving to the excellent Tzu Chi, a Buddhist relief organization headquartered in Taiwan. Relief efforts in Japan are being coordinated through long-established Tzu Chi offices and volunteer groups in Japan, not by random do-gooders parachuting in from elsewhere. Tzu Chi does a lot of good work around the globe, so your money will be put to good use somewhere.

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And Even In This, We Find The Simpsons Reference

David E. Sanger and Matthew L. Wald at NYT:

As the scale of Japan’s nuclear crisis begins to come to light, experts in Japan and the United States say the country is now facing a cascade of accumulating problems that suggest that radioactive releases of steam from the crippled plants could go on for weeks or even months.

he emergency flooding of stricken reactors with seawater and the resulting steam releases are a desperate step intended to avoid a much bigger problem: a full meltdown of the nuclear cores in reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. On Monday, an explosion blew the roof off the second reactor, not damaging the core, officials said, but presumably leaking more radiation.

Later Monday, the government said cooling systems at a third reactor had failed. The Kyodo news agency reported that the damaged fuel rods at the third reactor had been temporarily exposed, increasing the risk of overheating. Sea water was being channeled into the reactor to cover the rods, Kyodo reported.

So far, Japanese officials have said the melting of the nuclear cores in the two plants is assumed to be “partial,” and the amount of radioactivity measured outside the plants, though twice the level Japan considers safe, has been relatively modest.

But Pentagon officials reported Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates — still being analyzed, but presumed to include cesium-137 and iodine-121 — suggesting widening environmental contamination.

Instapundit:

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOT MUCH: 7th Fleet repositions ships after contamination detected. “For per­spec­tive, the max­i­mum poten­tial radi­a­tion dose received by any ship’s force per­son­nel aboard the ship when it passed through the area was less than the radi­a­tion expo­sure received from about one month of expo­sure to nat­ural back­ground radi­a­tion from sources such as rocks, soil, and the sun.”

Ed Morrissey:

Still, if that’s the dose received 100 miles away after wind dispersal and dissipation, it’s small wonder that the Japanese are evacuating the area near the plant.  No nation has the history of radiation poisoning that Japan does, and one has to believe that this danger will loom the largest among the people even after the tsunami damage that killed thousands of people.  The government will face a great deal of scrutiny for years to come for its actions in these few days, and they appear to understand that.

David Kopel:

That’s the title of a post on the Morgsatlarge, reprinting a letter from Dr. Josef Oehman of MIT. According to his web page, his main research interest is “risk management in the value chain, with a special focus on lean product development.” Although he’s a business professor and not a nuclear scientist, his father worked in the German nuclear power industry, and the post provides a detailed and persuasive (at least to me) explanation of how the endangered Japanese nuclear power plants work, and why their multiple backup systems  ensure that there will be neither an explosion nor a catastophic release of radiation. The American cable TV channels, by the way, seem to be taking a much more sober approach than they did yesterday, when Wolf Blitzer was irresponsibly raising fear of “another Chernobyl.”

John Sullivan at ProPublica:

As engineers in Japan struggle to bring quake-damaged reactors under control [1], attention is turning to U.S. nuclear plants and their ability to withstand natural disasters.

Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has spent years pushing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission toward stricter enforcement of its safety rules, has called for a reassessment. Several U.S. reactors lie on or near fault lines, and Markey wants to beef up standards for new and existing plants.

“This disaster serves to highlight both the fragility of nuclear power plants and the potential consequences associated with a radiological release caused by earthquake related damage,” Markey wrote NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko in a March 11 letter [2].

Specifically, Markey raised questions about a reactor design the NRC is reviewing for new plants that has been criticized for seismic vulnerability. The NRC has yet to make a call on the AP1000 reactor [3], which is manufactured by Westinghouse. But according to Markey, a senior NRC engineer has said the reactor’s concrete shield building could shatter “like a glass cup” under heavy stress.

The New York Times reported last week [4] that the NRC has reviewed the concerns raised by the engineer, John Ma, and concluded that the design is sufficient without the upgrades Ma recommended. Westinghouse maintains that the reactor is safe [5].

Boiling water reactors [6], like the ones hit by the Japanese earthquake, are built like nested matroyshka [7] dolls.

The inner doll, which looks like a gigantic cocktail shaker and holds the radioactive uranium, is the heavy steel reactor vessel. It sits inside a concrete and steel dome called the containment. The reactor vessel is the primary defense against disaster — as long as the radiation stays inside everything is fine.

The worry is that a disaster could either damage the vessel itself or, more likely, damage equipment that used to control the uranium. If operators cannot circulate water through the vessel to cool the uranium it could overheat and burn into radioactive slag — a meltdown.

Steve Mirsky at Scientific American

Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing:

This morning, I got an email from a BoingBoing reader, who is one of the many people worried about the damaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima, Japan. In one sentence, he managed to get right to heart of a big problem lurking behind the headlines today: “The extent of my knowledge on nuclear power plants is pretty much limited to what I’ve seen on The Simpsons“.

For the vast majority of people, nuclear power is a black box technology. Radioactive stuff goes in. Electricity (and nuclear waste) comes out. Somewhere in there, we’re aware that explosions and meltdowns can happen. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that set of information is enough to get by on. But, then, an emergency like this happens and, suddenly, keeping up-to-date on the news feels like you’ve walked in on the middle of a movie. Nobody pauses to catch you up on all the stuff you missed.

As I write this, it’s still not clear how bad, or how big, the problems at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant will be. I don’t know enough to speculate on that. I’m not sure anyone does. But I can give you a clearer picture of what’s inside the black box. That way, whatever happens at Fukushima, you’ll understand why it’s happening, and what it means.

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Disaster In Japan

Andrew Sullivan with a round-up of live blogs

Naked Capitalism:

When a smaller earthquake struck near Tokyo a couple of days ago, I wondered if worse was on the way soon.

Japan has been overdue for a major earthquake, given their historical frequency. Perversely, there was much more worry about the impact of a major quake on Japan when it was an economic force to be reckoned with (perhaps a subconscious wish to cut the seemingly unbeatable Japanese down to size?). While the horrific death count that resulted from the last great quake in 1923, led the Japanese to impose vastly tougher building codes and continue to improve upon earthquake-related technology, events like this too often have a nasty way of defeating careful planning. But this tremblor, which registered a formidable magnitude 8.8, was off the northern coast, but still has produced serious disruptions in Tokyo. There are no good reports of the damage yet.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

Livestream news from Hawaii seem to show non-devastating waves and pullbacks as the tsunami spreads out from its source in Japan, but at “fairly significant numbers,” according to the islands’ tsunami guy. Japan is still reporting a shockingly low death toll from such a significant event; but that toll is expected to rise. In Hawaii, people seem nervous but assured: “I’ve cut my feet on this reef a few times but nothing like this,” said the KHNL newscaster a few minutes ago, looking at the exposed Diamondhead reef, which is now getting some water again. So far they’ve seen surge of about six feet; it’s now expected to top out at 8 or 9 feet. In the 1946 tsunami, waves lasted all day; this is not expected to be as severe, but you’ll see “odd behavior” all day around Hawaii. After 7 a.m., foot-size waves are expected to reach California.

Michelle Malkin:

Keep the people of Japan in your prayers. The earthquake and tsunami that hit the northern part of the country has caused devastating loss of life and destruction. Readers in Hawaii e-mail that they have prepared for coastal flooding as well. Be safe, friends.

Ed Morrissey:

I lived most of my life in Southern California, where natives take a blasé attitude towards most quakes, but a few of them are memorable.  My first day running an alarm center in Southern California was the day of the Northridge quake seventeen years ago, which only hit 6.7 on the Richter scale and killed 33 people, destroyed a freeway overpass, and did major damage.  The Richter scale is logarithmic, which means that an 8.8 quake released more than 1000 times the energy of a 6.7.

Jack Spencer at Heritage:

Reports coming from Japan say the quake caused millions of people to evacuate buildings, and the government ordered people near several of the country’s nuclear power plants to leave. Concerns about a radiation leak at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 1 reactor, one of Japan’s 11 nuclear reactors, led to the precautionary evacuation. The biggest concern is that the electricity shortage at the plant is making it difficult for crews to operate the plant’s reactor cooling system quickly.

It is important to remember that the evacuation efforts are cautionary measures rather than indicative of any certain danger posed by the nuclear reactors. Japan’s nuclear power plants, like our own, are built to withstand earthquakes. Plants are engineered to shut down the moment an earthquake hits. Beyond that, each nuclear power plant is fitted with numerous and layered safety mechanisms to ensure the integrity of the facility.

Indeed, even if all of those systems fail, which has not been the case in Japan based on current information, the physics of light water reactors (the type operated in both Japan and the U.S.) make them inherently safe. The same water used to cool the reactor is also necessary to sustain the nuclear reaction. Should the ability to cool the reactor be lost because of an inability to pump coolant to the core, as is the case with the one Japanese reactor, the nuclear reaction will cease. However, it is much too early to even assume that has happened.

Digby:

I was watching the live coverage of the tsunami in Japan last night and could not believe what I was seeing. It was something out of a movie — a movie that I would have thought was somewhat ridiculous until I saw this surge from the birds eye view. Unbelievable.

I’m sitting here now, six blocks from the beach in California, waiting for the wave to hit the west coast. Luckily it doesn’t appear to be dangerous to us at this point.

The good news is that if the Republicans have their way, when one of these things does hit us in this earthquake zone, we won’t have warning:

Thursday night’s massive earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami warnings that have alarmed U.S. coasts, seem likely to ignite a debate over a previously little-discussed subsection of the spending bills currently being debated in Congress.

Tucked into the House Republican continuing resolution are provisions cutting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including the National Weather Service, as well as humanitarian and foreign aid.

Presented as part of a larger deficit reduction package, each cut could be pitched as tough-choice, belt-tightening on behalf of the GOP. But advocates for protecting those funds pointed to the crisis in Japan as evidence that without the money, disaster preparedness and relief would suffer.

“These are very closely related,” National Weather Service Employees Organization President Dan Sobien told The Huffington Post with respect to the budget cuts and the tsunami. “The National Weather Service has the responsibility of warning about tsunami’s also. It is true that there is no plan to not fund the tsunami buoys. Everyone knows you just can’t do that. Still if those [House] cuts go through there will be furloughs at both of the tsunami warning centers that protect the whole country and, in fact, the whole world.”

The House full-year continuing resolution, which has not passed the Senate, would indeed make steep cuts to several programs and functions that would serve in a response to natural disasters (not just tsunamis) home and abroad. According to Sobien, the bill cuts $126 million from the budget of the NWS. Since, however, the cuts are being enacted over a six-month period (the length of the continuing resolution) as opposed to over the course of a full year, the effect would be roughly double.

I realize that the productive wealthy can’t be taxed but I hope they’re all thinking ahead and employing their own natural disaster experts or they might suffer right along with the rest of us.

Noah Kristula-Green at FrumForum:

I grew up in Japan from Kindergarten through high school, so when I learned about the earthquake that struck the country this morning, I immediately had flashbacks to the many disaster preparedness drills I had gone through growing up. The images on the television of the aftermath of the earthquake are undoubtedly extreme and the level of damage from this natural disaster is more than any that I can remember from my lifetime. In addition to the news on television, a glance at facebook shows that many of my friends from Japan are scared as well. It seems that many phone lines are not working and I am sure the mobile phone networks are over-saturated as well. I’m also learning interesting pieces of news, apparently the roof of an ice skating rink my friends and I used to go to as a kid has collapsed.

However, only Japan could be hit with an 8.9 scale quake and come out of it with only hundreds dead. Similarly large earthquakes in less prepared countries have killed tens of thousands almost instantly. (A 7.5 earthquake in Bangladesh killed 90,000 people within minutes in 2010).

When it comes to earthquake preparedness, Japan does set the gold standard. In addition to strict building codes, a concerted effort is made to train and drill the entire population. Schools regularly practice evacuation routes, classrooms keep enough helmets in stock for all students, and reminders about where the safest place to be during a quake (under tables or in doorways) are constantly reiterated. I have vivid memories of an earthquake simulation truck that would travel around to educate people about what a large quake would feel like. The truck would be cut open to reveal a diorama of a living room. A series of springs would be activated to shake the diorama at levels up to and beyond the scale of quakes that Japan would normally be hit by.

Just as important as the civil preparedness, the security of Japan’s infrastructure is also a high priority. Its nuclear power plants have managed to be controlled despite initial concerns of a cooling problem.

Earthquakes are also excellent times to remember that Japan’s architects and construction companies are some of the best and most thorough in the world. Web video is already circulating of Japanese skyscrapers swaying dramatically.  This video may look shocking to the uninitiated, but it is actually a very good thing: it is much better for a building to move and sway with the earthquake as opposed to resisting it.

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And The Silver Medal Goes To China… Or Does It?

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up

Ryan Avent at DiA at The Economist:

CHINA has, at long last, surpassed Japan in terms of nominal GDP, making the Chinese economy the world’s second largest. Second quarter output in China came in at $1.337 trillion, to Japan’s $1.288 trillion (Japan’s output was larger in the first quarter; for comparison, America’s second quarter nominal output was $3.522 trillion). The shift is sure to be widely discussed and widely misinterpreted. There are a few key things to mention.

First, while Chinese growth has been truly impressive in recent decades, the rapid overtaking of the Japanese economy also reflects years of disappointing growth there. This story is as much about Japan’s travails (and the risk to other rich economies facing a descent into Japanese-style stagnation) as it is China’s boom.

Second, China remains a very poor country in per capita terms. It uses over four times as many citizens as America to produce less than half America’s output. That’s a bit misleading—urban productivity in China doesn’t lag America by quite as much but is offset by the limited growth contribution of China’s hundreds of millions of rural poor. Still, the total output figures encourage observers to vastly overstate the developmental level of the Chinese economy.

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

The world economy reached a major milestone Monday when China officially became the world’s second-largest economy, displacing Japan, which has held the title for more than four decades. The recognition of China’s new status came after the Japanese government reported that, after a quarter of slow economic growth, the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to be around $1.28 trillion, slightly below China’s $1.33 trillion. Do all countries use the same method for estimating GDP?

They’re supposed to. The System of National Accounts (SNA), a set of guidelines developed jointly by the United Nations, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the World Bank, specifies the methods by which countries measure the size of their economies.

There are two main methods for estimating GDP. One involves looking at production. This includes the value of the goods produced by all the firms in the country, the added value of government work projects, and — particularly in developing countries — the value of goods produced for personal consumption, like the crops grown by subsistence farmers. Not all wealth counts toward GDP. For instance, if you build a new house, that’s considered value added to the economy.  If a pre-existing house increases in value, the owner may be better off, but the country’s GDP is unaffected. Of course, companies often have a vested interest in exaggerating their profits, so reliable figures can sometimes be tough to calculate.

The other method of calculating GDP involves measuring total consumption of products by a country’s population. Since it relies mostly on household surveys, this method also has flaws. People tend to underreport the amount they spend on alcohol and cigarettes, for instance. But hopefully, the two measures should come up with close to the same number and when the results from the two approaches are compiled, they should give you a pretty good idea of the size of a country’s economy.

[…]

But for most countries, there’s no international legal authority to ensure that statistical offices are following the SNA guidelines, and international economists largely have to rely on self-reported numbers. While no one’s disputing China’s new status, the country has often been suspected of cooking its books. Although China is not a member of the OECD, it does cooperate with the organization in producing statistics according to the SNA guidelines.

Those guidelines are updated every few years. The most recent edition, which was made in 2008 and has so far only been implemented by Australia, was revised so that a firm’s investments in research and development are considered added value. This means that as the new standard is implemented worldwide over the next four years or so, many countries will see their GDP numbers increase by as much as 1 percent. That’s one way to stimulate growth.

Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider:

Let’s just put some of today’s headlines about Japan’s GDP being surpassed by Chinese GDP in perspective.

In the quarter, Japan had economic output of $1.28 trillion, or $10,085 per capital, based on a population of 127 million.

China?

It had economic output of $1.337 trillion for the quarter, but a population of about $1.3 billion, so per-capita output of… $1000, about a 1/10th as big.

Let us know when China passes Albania.

Derek Scissors at Heritage:

It’s true that simple GDP does matter. The increasing size of China’s economy means the entire world is now affected by its voracious demand for oil, iron ore, and other commodities, as well as its low-cost supply of consumer electronics, clothing, and other goods.

But for successful economic development, what matters far more is the wealth of individuals and families. Japanese economic weakness is not shown in its still impressive 3rd place in world GDP but in its roughly 40th place on measures of personal income. From an economy once thought better managed and better performing than the U.S., the average citizen of Japan is now poorer than the average citizen of Mississippi. American citizens are noticeably richer than citizens of most other developed countries, such as in the EU. But Japan, in particular, is moving backward.

In contrast to Japan’s 20 years of weakness, there has been stunning growth in Chinese GDP per capita for 30 years. Yet China is still a developing economy. Chinese GDP per capita, even adjusted for purchasing power, is about 15 percent the level of the U.S. Further, GDP per capita actually exaggerates China’s performance.

The PRC’s incomplete data revisions undermine comparisons but, from the middle of 2000 to the middle of 2010, GDP per capita increased by more than 9500 yuan or, at present exchange rates, another $2800 in annual income. However, urban disposable income increased less than 6800 yuan, or about $2000 in annual income. And rural income increased less than 2000 yuan, or $600 in annual income.

Razib Khan at Discover

Robert Reich at Wall Street Pit:

Think of China as a giant production machine that’s growing 10 percent a year (this year, somewhat less). The machine sucks in more and more raw materials and components from rest of world – it’s now the world’s #1 buyer of iron ore and copper, and close to the #1 importer of crude oil – and spews out a growing mountain of stuff, along with huge environmental problems.

But because the Chinese consume a smaller and smaller proportion of this stuff, it has to be exported to consumers elsewhere (Europe, North America, Japan) to keep the Chinese working. Much of the money China earns by selling it around the world is reinvested in factories, roads, trains, and power plants that enlarge China’s capacity to produce far more. Another big portion is lent to or invested in the rest of the world (helping to finance America’s budget deficit at very low cost).

But this can’t go on. China’s workers won’t allow it. Workers in other nations who are losing their jobs won’t allow it, either.

The answer is not simply more labor agitation in China or an upward revaluation of China’s currency relative to the dollar. The problem is bigger. All over the world, we’re witnessing a growing gap between production and consumption, while the environment continues to degrade. The Chinese machine is fast heading for a breakdown only because it’s growing fastest.

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The Laying Of The Wreath And All That It Means

John Hudson at The Atlantic with a round-up. Hudson:

For the first time ever, a U.S. delegation will attend Japan’s annual memorial commemorating America’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima. U.S. Ambassador John Roos is expected to lay a wreath at the memorial in remembrance of the bomb victims. While the appearance could hold political risks for the Obama administration, it could also strengthen U.S.-Japan relations.

Interestingly, President Obama’s latest gesture isn’t stirring much outrage among hawkish foreign-policy writers. Instead, what has emerged is a discussion about Japan’s need for a more honest assessment of World War II

Kenzaburo Oe at NYT:

At the annual Hiroshima Peace Ceremony on Friday, this year marking the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb, representatives from Britain, France and the United States planned to be in attendance, for the first time. This is a public event at which government leaders give speeches, but it also has a more profound and private aspect, as the atomic bomb survivors offer ritual consolation to the spirits of their dead relatives. Of all the official events that have been created during the past 200 years of modernization, the peace ceremony has the greatest degree of moral seriousness.

I’m using the term “moral seriousness” deliberately here, to echo a passage in the speech President Obama delivered in Prague in April 2009. “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon,” he said, “the United States has a moral responsibility to act.” The president’s call is yet another indication that a sense of crisis is germinating, fueled by a growing awareness that if decisive steps are not taken, before long the possession of nuclear weapons will not be limited to a few privileged countries.

Mr. Obama’s Prague speech reflected the sentiments expressed previously by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn in a 2007 article for The Wall Street Journal titled “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons.” They wrote: “Deterrence continues to be a relevant consideration for many states with regard to threats from other states. But reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.”

The antinuclear mood in America and Europe appears to be gaining momentum; indeed, the American, British and French presence at the peace ceremony may be seen as a small symbolic step toward a nuclear-free world. However, as things stand now, Japan still has no concrete plan for moving the air base. In the same vein, there’s the possibility that we will allow nuclear weapons to pass through Japan in exchange for American protection.

At a meeting of the United Nations Security Council before he was deposed, Prime Minister Hatoyama responded to Mr. Obama’s Prague speech by noting that Japan, too, had a “moral responsibility” because it was “the only victim of nuclear bombings.”

But what sort of action will result from all this antinuclear rhetoric? If Prime Minister Kan also takes the time to think about President Obama’s phrase, how might he interpret it? It probably wouldn’t go over very well if, in his speech at the peace ceremony, he were to side with the crowd advocating transport of nuclear weapons through Japan.

But suppose he did — how would such a declaration be received by the foreign dignitaries who have allied themselves with Mr. Obama’s pledge? And what about the bombing victims who will fill the venue? Wouldn’t they feel a sense of outrage if they were told that it’s their moral responsibility, as citizens of the only atom-bombed country, to choose to live under the protection of a nuclear umbrella, and that wanting to discard that umbrella in favor of freedom is, conversely, an abdication of responsibility?

James Gibney at The Atlantic on Oe:

The annual anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th inevitably prompts an outpouring of a lot of well-meaning pablum. One bracing, eloquent exception to that is novelist Kenzaburo Oe’s column on yesterday’s New York Times op-ed page.

Ignore Oe’s spluttering about the current imbroglio over the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa. Although it ought to be moved, and although there’s no excuse or serious strategic rationale for why Okinawa needs to keep “hosting” the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, those debates are tangential to Oe’s larger point: that many Japanese seem to want to live under the righteous penumbra of the Hiroshima dome AND enjoy the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Discussing how atom bomb survivors might view a decision by Japan to allow the transit of U.S. nuclear weapons through its territory, Oe writes:

Wouldn’t they feel a sense of outrage if they were told that it’s their moral responsibility, as citizens of the only atom-bombed country, to choose to live under the protection of a nuclear umbrella, and that wanting to discard that umbrella in favor of freedom is, conversely, an abdication of responsibility?

I doubt Mr. Oe and I would agree with each other on either the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and the desirability of a truly nuclear-free world. But his insight provides the basis for a more honest discussion about Japan’s claims to moral privilege and its strategic future.
Warren Kozak at The Wall Street Journal

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary:

In theory, there ought to be nothing wrong with an American representative appearing in Hiroshima. Mourning the loss of so many lives in the bombing is both understandable and appropriate. But the problem lies in the way Japan remembers World War II. One of the reasons why it would have been appropriate for the United States to avoid its official presence at this ceremony is that the Japanese have never taken full responsibility for their own conduct during the war that the Hiroshima bombing helped end. Indeed, to listen to the Japanese, their involvement in the war sounds limited to the incineration of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the fire bombings of many other urban centers in the country, followed by a humiliating American occupation. The horror of the two nuclear bombs didn’t just wipe out two cities and force Japan’s government to finally bow to the inevitable and surrender. For 65 years it has served as a magic event that has erased from the collective memory of the Japanese people the vicious aggression and countless war crimes committed against not only the Allied powers but also the peoples of Asia who fell under their cruel rule in the 1930s and 1940s. The bombing of Hiroshima was horrible, but it ought not, as it has for all these years, to serve as an excuse for the Japanese people to forget the crimes their government and armed forces committed throughout their empire during the years that preceded the dropping of the first nuclear bomb.

Richard Fernandez at Pajamas Media:

As the New York Times remembers Hiroshima, try this quiz. Name the two greatest losses of civilian life in the Pacific war. Hint. In both cases the civilian casualties were greater than Hiroshima’s. In one case the event took place on American soil.

Casualties

Hiroshima 70,000–80,000

Battle of Manila 100,000
Nanjing 300,000

[…]

Hiroshima, Manila and Nanjing are tragic in their own ways. But one tragedy that continues even to this day is the selective memory in the capitals of nations who the inhabitants of Manila and Nanjing once called their Allies.  Bravery and sacrifice is fine; but politics is finer. Hiroshima is remembered not only because of the suffering and loss that took place there but because it renews an ongoing narrative, and those Japanese dead can still march in its cause. Manila and Nanjing, which hold the graves of nearly 400,000 people who once fought on the side of the democracies, are forgotten.  But that is no matter. After the first death, there is no other.

Bruce McQuain:

The Japanese people supported the war, cheered the victories and reveled in the spoils it brought. They were brutal and murderous conquerers. And they refused to surrender.After the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Japanese war cabinet of 6 split in their vote, refusing to surrender. After Nagasaki, they still refused to surrender until, in an unprecedented move, the Emperor intervened and essentially ordered them to do so.

If those who survived the atomic bombings at Hiroshima feel “outrage”, they should look in the mirror. They enabled and supported a regime that “outraged” the world. They cheered and shared in the spoils of a war they started which devastated much of Asia. They supported a brutal, murderous and criminal militaristic war machine that raped and murdered at will. If anyone should be “outraged”, it is those who suffered under the horrific but thankfully short Japanese rule of that time. If anyone should be apologizing yearly, it is the Japanese.

Well, for a time I organized my World Politics classes around case study analysis, and I used Carolyn Rhodes’, Pivotal Decisions: Select Cases In Twentieth Century International Politics. One of the best chapters is “The Decision to Drop the Bomb on Japan.” A lot of students were overwhelmed by the case studies, and I imagine that’s because Rhodes’ cases were extremely in-depth and rigorous, and thus required more advanced training than many entry-level students possessed. That said, there were some beefy discussions. I can remember at least one student — and a couple of others to a lesser degree — who basically broke down during the discussion of whether the U.S. should have used nuclear weapons to end the war. I mean, really, the discussions were almost traumatizing for some. So while the article above notes that the Japanese are perhaps the world’s most pacifist people, especially with regards to nuclear weapons, some the post-’60s cohorts of neo-socialist youth have internalized tremendously strong feelings about this as well. Of course, I don’t think such ideological sentiment leads to rigorous thinking, but at least those views are deeply held.

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Don’t Come Crying To Me, Mr. President, When A Probe Comes And Sucks Up Our Oceans

Stephen Clark at Fox News:

Environmentalists, already peeved with the administration’s handling of the Gulf oil spill, are accusing President Obama of breaking his campaign pledge to end the slaughter of whales.

The Obama administration is leading an effort within the International Whaling Commission to lift a 24-year international ban on commercial whaling for Japan, Norway and Iceland, the remaining three countries in the 88-member commission that still hunt whales.

The administration argues that the new deal will save thousands of whales over the next decade by stopping the three countries from illegally exploiting loopholes in the moratorium.

But environmentalists aren’t buying it.

“That moratorium on commercial whaling was the greatest conservation victory of the 20th century. And in 2010 to be waving the white flag or bowing to the stubbornness of the last three countries engaged in the practice is a mind-numbingly dumb idea,” Patrick Ramage, the whaling director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told FoxNews.com.

Wayne Pacelle at Huffington Post:

Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States, together with actor Pierce Brosnan and his wife, Keely Shaye Smith, are asking supporters to take action to save whales — again. Nearly a quarter century after the moratorium on commercial whaling took effect, the threat to whales worldwide has never been greater. Whaling, toxic pollution, ship strikes, noise pollution, and climate change are all factors in the endangerment of these creatures.

This week, on the eve of the 62nd meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Agadir, Morocco, the government of Australia took a decisive step to protect whales, filing suit in the International Court of Justice against Japan’s “scientific whaling” in the Southern Ocean. The suit seeks an injunction to bar Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary. In 2007, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an election pledge to ban whaling in the sanctuary, a 50-million-square-kilometer area surrounding the continent of Antarctica, where the IWC has banned all types of commercial whaling.

The lawsuit comes even as the member nations of the IWC are locked in debate over a compromise proposal, to be voted on at Agadir, that would allow the whaling nations to resume commercial whaling with the understanding that they abide by quotas.

Australia’s filing claims that Japan has abused its right to conduct scientific research whaling under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which provides for a scientific exemption. In 2008-09 Japan killed 1,004 whales, including 681 in the Southern Ocean. Since the moratorium came into effect, more than 33,000 whales have been killed under the article.

The lawsuit also asserts that Japan has breached its international obligations under the 1973 Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by hunting whale species listed as endangered, and invokes Article 3 of the1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, claiming that Japanese whaling is causing harm beyond national jurisdiction in the Southern Ocean.

Unfortunately, in the view of nearly the entire American animal protection and environmental community, the United States government has abdicated its leadership role in the defense of whales, encouraging consideration of a compromise proposal and actively politicking for its adoption. The delegation head has even disparaged the Australian initiative in the International Court of Justice.

Rich Lowry at National Review Online:

When it comes to whaling, Japan is a rogue state.

Since 1986, there’s been a moratorium on commercial whaling that Japan has honored only in the breach. Norway and Iceland don’t honor it at all, while a few aboriginal communities get exemptions. As a consequence, during the past 20 years, the number of whales killed annually has steadily increased; roughly 2,000 were killed last year.

This is a vast improvement over the 80,000 whales killed in 1960, but it’s a very leaky ban. The International Whaling Commission, the 88-nation body that regulates whaling, is now considering a proposal to formally lift the moratorium, in exchange for supposedly tighter limits on newly sanctioned hunting. The idea is that a more realistic regime will save thousands of whales during the next ten years.

But conservationists are rightly galled at a proposal that will again legitimate the killing of nature’s most majestic creatures — as harmless as they are awesome — with no guarantee that the number of whale catches will really go down substantially.

Whaling lost its Melville-esque romance long ago. Once, “iron men in wooden boats” hunted the beasts in something of an even match — otherwise, Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest for the white whale wouldn’t have been so self-destructive.

The rise of steam engines, explosive harpoons, and then factory ships — capable of killing and processing whales at sea — facilitated the mass slaughter of whales. The creatures had as much a chance against their hunters as bologna does against a grinder. They were killed in a decades-long movable charnel house.

In the first four decades of the 20th century, about 900,000 whales were killed just in the southern hemisphere. Blue whales, the largest animal on earth, had once been too fast for whaling ships. Not in the new age. Since 1920, their population has declined by 96 percent. Many species were hunted to the brink of extinction.

It became clear the carnage didn’t even suit the interests of the hunters, who would soon be bereft of prey. Hunting became restricted, and then, in a great victory for animal conservationists, the IWC ratified the moratorium in 1986.

Why protect whales? They should be preserved as befits anything else that evokes wonder; they are the mammalian equivalent of the Grand Canyon or of the giant redwoods. They are also incredibly long-lived creatures with a sophisticated social structure, closer to chimpanzees than to cattle.

Besides, there’s no reason to kill whales. No one has needed whale oil to light lamps for at least a century, and blubber isn’t a necessary source of nutrition in a modern society. Yet Japan persists. It agitates against the moratorium and organizes international opposition to it at the same time it cynically defies it.

The Economist:

Countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, that oppose whaling are frustrated. The IWC has become a battleground between the two camps, with each side trying to recruit allies from neutral states. Half the body’s 88 members joined in the past decade—helping to make it deadlocked and dysfunctional, unable either to curb whale hunts or to reauthorise them.

There have been physical stand-offs as well as diplomatic ones. In January there was a collision between a Japanese ship and a trimaran from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a green group based in the American state of Washington. The crew (from Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands) had to abandon ship. In February Australia (with quiet sympathy from New Zealand) threatened to take Japan to the International Court of Justice unless it stopped whaling off Antarctica.

Against this nastiness, a “peace plan” was unveiled on April 22nd, Earth Day, by the IWC’s Chilean chairman, Crishán Maquieira, and his Antiguan deputy, Anthony Liverpool. It reflected months of closed-door talks among a dozen countries. The moratorium would be lifted for a decade, but whalers would agree to a sharp reduction in their catch, stricter enforcement measures and a ban on all cross-border commerce in whale products.

The aim is to buy time in which countries can hammer out a longer-term agreement, while achieving an immediate drop in the number of whales that are killed. Supporters—including Monica Medina, who heads America’s IWC delegation—say the deal seeks to “depoliticise” the whaling that does go on, while laying the ground for a tougher conservation system. The plan will be considered in June at the IWC’s annual meeting in Morocco.

Enter the naysayers

But objections are already coming in. New Zealand’s foreign minister, Murray McCully, calls the proposed quota for Antarctic waters unrealistic and unacceptable. Junichi Sato, a Japanese conservationist from Greenpeace who does not share his compatriots’ predilection for whaling, regrets that “the whales are making all the concessions, not the whalers.”

That is not an easy corner to argue in Tokyo. Japan’s fisheries minister, Hirotaka Akamatsu, deems the limit “too drastic” and wants it raised. But in principle at least, Japan is ready to make a deal. An official at the Fisheries Agency says that the country is willing to hunt fewer whales provided it can do so without international opprobrium. “We have to lose something in order to get something,” he says. Indeed, it can be argued that the biggest obstacles to a cut in the number of whales slaughtered do not lie with the harpoon-wielders, but rather with their most zealous opponents, for whom the best is the enemy of the good.

Japan’s critics say that by using a loophole in the IWC charter to practise “scientific” whaling, the country is violating the spirit of the document. Japanese officials counter that the 1946 convention never anticipated a moratorium on all commercial whaling. Whale meat is still occasionally served to schoolchildren in Japan as a reminder of their culture, though large-scale whaling only really began after the war, on the orders of General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw America’s occupation. The aim was to provide cheap nourishment for a famished nation.

AtlantaJan at Daily Kos:

The current proposal would also:
Overturn the global ban on commercial whaling and allow hunting in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica.
Approve the killing of whales for commercial purposes by Japan around Antarctica and in the North Pacific.
Add new rights for Japan to hunt whales in its coastal waters.
Allow continuing whaling by Iceland and Norway in violation of long-agreed scientific procedures and the global whaling ban.

The Obama administration is spearheading a policy that would allow commercial whaling to proceed for 10 years. Commercial whaling has been banned since the 1970s. Before the ban on commercial whaling, close to 40,000 whales were killed annually; since the ban, that number has dropped to fewer than 2,000, and whale populations have begun to recover.

The administration is arguing that if we see whales being slaughtered, we are more likely to support a total moratorium. But that is like saying if we see people killing puppies, fewer people will kill puppies. It’s garbage.

According to a survey by the Nippon Research Center, more than 95 percent of Japanese residents had never eaten whale. But the Japanese government has begun supplying schools with whale meat in an attempt to justify its slaughter. Additionally, Japan has begun bribing land-locked nations in Africa, and poor nations like Nauru and Togo, with aid in exchange for support of position within the IWC.

Whales are intelligent animals. Australia has taken the lead on their protection. For the US to take any other position is abominable.

Tom Maguire:

Enviros are enraged, and rightly so – Rich Lowry explains that Japan has been a rogue state for decades on this topic.

But can we blame Bush?  Yes we can!  Or at least, the Brit Independent can:

The deal which may do away with [the ban], which has been on the table for three years, was first thought to be merely a diplomatic compromise to end the perpetual confrontation at IWC meetings between the whaling nations and the anti-whaling countries. But recently it has become clear that it had a different purpose, and was cooked up in the US – by leading figures in the Bush administration, among them being Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who, until his conviction for taking unreported gifts in 2008, was the longest-serving Republican senator in American history.

One of the most powerful figures in US politics, Senator Stevens sought a deal with Japan after the Japanese caused problems for the US by objecting (as a bargaining counter in IWC negotiations) to the whale-hunting quota for Alaskan Inuit peoples, who have a traditional hunt for about 50 bowhead whales.

Senator Stevens is believed to have put pressure on the then-US Whaling Commissioner and IWC chairman, William Hogarth – whose budget, in the US National Marine Fisheries Service, Mr Stevens controlled as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee – to open talks with Japan, which Mr Hogarth duly did at the 2007 IWC meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.

Mr Hogarth’s proposals, which would have allowed the Japanese and others to restart whaling commercially, were eventually thrown out by the IWC. Yet the deal now back on the table is essentially a modified version of his original plan, which is even more favourable to the whaling states.

It is notable that the US, which used to have to negotiate its Inuit bowhead quota every five years, will get a 10-year quota if the new deal goes ahead.

Blaming Bush and the Eskimos – I knew it.  But if that is all the payback we get, I am surprised.

And can we find a flip-flip quote from Obama?  Yes we can!

As a candidate, President Obama said, “As president, I will ensure that the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.” (March 16, 2008 – Greenpeace candidate questionnaire)

Yeah, well, that was more than two years ago, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and no one thinks Obama has a little mind.

UPDATE: Alex Knapp

Doug Mataconis

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The Fat Man And The Little Boy Never Die

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

Barack Obama: you can dress him up, but you can’t take him out. Every time he goes abroad, he embarrasses himself and sells out his country.

In Japan today, Obama gave a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama. He was asked this question, for which he was unaccountably unprepared:

And to President Obama, you are a proponent of a nuclear-free world, and you’ve stated, first of all, you would like to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki while in office. Do you have this desire? And what is your understanding of the historical meaning of the A-bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Do you think that it was the right decision?

To understand how stumbling and ill-prepared Obama’s response was, you really have to watch the video. In the end, the reporter repeats the question, did the U.S. do the right thing in bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki? And Obama refuses to answer

[…]

Here’s the key part of the transcript:

… Now, obviously Japan has unique perspective on the issue of nuclear weapons as a consequence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And that I’m sure helps to motivate the Prime Minister’s deep interest in this issue. I certainly would be honored, it would be meaningful for me to visit those two cities in the future. I don’t have immediate travel plans, but it’s something that would be meaningful to me.

You had one more question, and I’m not sure I remember it. Was it North Korea?

Q Whether or not you believe that the U.S. dropped a nuclear weapon on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — it was right?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, there were three sets of questions, right? You asked about North Korea?

How pathetic. In fact, though, it’s probably just as well Obama didn’t say what he really thought. In his speech on nuclear proliferation in Prague, Obama at least suggested that Truman did the wrong thing by bringing World War II to a decisive end:

[A]s the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.

If Barack Obama can’t stick up for the country he represents when he goes overseas, he should stay home.

Dan Riehl:

Asked whether or not the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the appropriate decision, Obama initially ignored the question. Then in an exchange immediately after when reminded of his failure to answer the question, he simply moved on. Evidently that one’s above his pay grade. He did say he would be honored to visit the sites.

Conor Friedersdorf responds to Riehl and Hinderaker:

How dismaying that a loud subset of the right so consistently demands that President Obama privilege their childish desire for self-righteous rhetoric above the actual demands of statesmanship. What good would it possibly do to tell the Japanese, “Yes, I think it was right to incinerate your cities”? It wouldn’t do any good. On the other side of the ledger, it would antagonize an allied nation, put its leadership in a difficult spot that might impede its ability to help the United States. President Obama is also endeavoring to slow nuclear proliferation, so it would hardly due to have headlines in Iranian newspapers pointing out that even as he demands that other nations give up nuclear weapons, he is saying that their only actual use in history was justified.

Asked whether the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified, President Obama correctly calculated that answering either yes or no would harm American interests, so he gave neither answer, the wisest course available to him, even if it didn’t satisfy the jingoistic vanity of certain critics.

Will at The League:

Unlike John Hinderaker, I would be very pleased if Obama expressed regret for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don’t foresee this happening, but I am always amazed by people who just assume that leveling two cities with atomic weaponry wasn’t a morally ambiugous decision.

Andrew Sullivan

UPDATE: David Lindsay at TAC

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